EDMONTON - Given the extreme turbulence he experienced in his four years with Edmonton, you half expected Dustin Penner to spend the trade deadline at the airport with his fingers crossed.
A human lightning rod from the moment he signed that controversial offer sheet in the summer of 2007, Penner had more burn marks on him than any Oiler in recent memory, many of them well deserved, many others because he was simply an easy target on a poorly-constructed team.
He could be excused for wanting out.
But he didn’t. He actually liked it here. Go figure.
“I’m sad to leave,” said the 28-year-old winger, after being traded to the LA Kings for a first round draft pick, conditional third round pick and prospect defenceman Colton Teubert.
“Like everybody here, I felt like we were building something together. I didn’t expect to get traded. It’s kind of a daze.”
This wasn’t Ryan Smyth blubbering like a lost kid in a shopping mall, but it hurt just the same.
“With life there’s ups and downs,” he said. “A decent first year. The second year (underachieving and in Craig MacTavish’s doghouse) was something we’d all like to forget. The last two I’ve enjoyed thoroughly. It’s a really fun place to play.
“I went through good times and bad times here but I think I grew as a player and a person.”
With 93 goals in 304 games as an Oiler, Penner is a rare commodity in the NHL There aren’t many 250-pound wingers who can score 30 without really trying. Of course, it’s hard to get by in a hockey city when you’re not really trying, which contributed to the love-hate relationship with the fans and media.
The worst of it came in his second season. MacTavish thought he was overweight and lazy and Penner didn’t want to play for a coach who wouldn’t treat him with respect. The season was a train wreck that saw Penner, benched, press-boxed, booed during games and raked over coals on the airwaves and in the papers. They even traded him in the off-season, a deal that fell through when Dany Heatley played the no-trade card.
“His second year was as difficult as any I’ve seen a player go through with respect to the fans and media,” said captain Shawn Horcoff. “I was so impressed with the way he handled it, professionally and as a person, in the lockerroom and with the guys.
“It’s been challenging for him at times, but I’m really impressed with his professionalism. He’s a real strong person. He believes in himself, in his ability. He’s positive to be around. I can’t say enough about him.
“It’s tough to see friends like that go. I had conversations with him and I know he really grew to enjoy his time here, enjoy the organization. He liked playing here, liked the guys. I know he was prepared, if it came to it, to stay and be a part of the future.”
He’s leaving a snow-swept last-place team for a playoff contender in sunny Los Angeles, not far from where he owns a house, where he’ll be reunited with former Oiler teammates Matt Greene and Jarret Stoll. As far as landing spots go, it’s as good as it gets.
“It’s nice to go to a team with a few familiar faces,” he said. “It’s probably one of the better places I could have gone to.”
Still, Edmonton, for all the scorch marks it left on him, was OK, too.
“There’s a lot of positives,” he said. “The coaching staff, the organization, from Steve Tambellini down, the training staff, it’s a really fun place to play.
“My family enjoyed their time here. We had a lot of fun, other than the hour-long drive from Terwilleger in the snow. It’s a great place to play. I enjoyed my time here.”
The Kings visit Edmonton March 29.